Imagine you’re on the corporate board for a Fortune 100 company. Your CEO has just resigned, and it’s time to find a replacement. You do all the right things—develop skills and needs assessments for the organization, update the job description, bring in top-notch recruiters. But the only resumes that come in are from relatively junior people, at much smaller companies, who have never led a big organization.
What should your reaction be?
If your company has its act together and things are running smoothly, once you get over the initial shock, you take a deep breath and look at your hiring process. Did you choose the wrong headhunter? Fail to adequately review the job description and supporting materials? Say something stupid? If any of these happened, it’s not exactly great news. But it happens every day in corporate America, so you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.
Now, let’s look at another scenario. You tried once before to hire an interim CEO, and you crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s. You narrowed the field down to three candidates, got right up to the finish line, and just like that all three told you no.
In that context, the lack of compelling resumes speaks volumes. It says your company is a s*** show, and your efforts to clean things up since the abortive effort to hire an interim CEO have been at best useless.
And so it is that the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia again finds itself in the middle of a hot mess, even as it releases the names of candidates for the next bishop. (As to the prior search for a Bishop Interim, we’re not fooled by the bit about not wanting to move to Virginia for three years. There are plenty of retired bishops wandering around. That was, at best, a polite excuse.)
Let’s start with the obvious:
- The candidates are all middle-aged cisgendered white guys.
- There are no LGBTQ+ candidates.
- There are no candidates currently serving as an assistant bishop or suffragan bishop.
- Two of the candidates essentially come from within the diocese.
- The collective level of prophetic vision in the bunch rises about to the level of whether to go to Mickey D’s or Burger King for lunch.
Digging a little deeper, none have a lot of experience in conflict transformation. Given the level of conflict in the diocese, we’d expect at a minimum formal training from the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center .
Nor do we see much transformational leadership experience. For example, The Rev. Robin Hammeal-Urban, formerly canon for mission integrity in the Diocese of CT, has a JD, has worked on affordable housing issues, and is probably one of the best informed clergy out there when it comes to healing damaged churches. Nothing even close in this bunch. (Robin herself just went part-time with the diocese, so odds are slim.)
Similarly, there are good LGBTQ+ good candidates around. Mary Glasspool, after escaping the maws of Bishop Bruno, has been assistant bishop of New York since 2016, long enough to be able to move if she wishes to do so.
Meanwhile, although she would be unlikely to accept, having been elected the state’s first openly lesbian senator, the Rev. Kim Jackson is African-American and operates the Church of the Common Ground, a ministry to Atlanta’s homeless. Hers is a voice of power, faith, and transformational change. No one who knows Kim is going to worry that she’s going to go all mealy-mouthed on them.
In Episcopal blogging circles, The Rev. Tim Schenck is well known for his thoughtful views of the future of the church and is already under consideration as bishop coadjutor in SW Florida. Similarly, the Rev. Tom Ferguson, aka Crusty Old Dean, has a deep understanding of the challenges facing the church and has put his hat in the ring for Bishop of Idaho. (Ye Gods, Crusty — Idaho?)
There are also native American candidates who come to mind, notably The Reverend Canon Robert W. Two Bulls Jr.
And the former rector of this author’s childhood parish, The Rev. Holly Herring, has done a great job of using social media and pop-up events to grow and reinvigorate declining churches. She also has been considered for at least one bishop position.
In short, there are lots of good candidates out there, and the current slate is, at best, underwhelming.
Making it Work
It is not impossible though that one of the candidates could make it work. This would involve:
- Draining the swamp that is Mayo House.
- Putting all issues on the table, including the possible sale of Mayo House, which is hardly conducive to outreach. (Picture Tara, with the front gates padlocked, right across from the four-star Jefferson Hotel. The only difference is Tara had events that brought the community in. Not so Mayo House.)
- Bringing in Robin Hammeal-Urban or the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center to do real work on healing in the diocese, including dealing with clergy misconduct. ++Goff’s “listening sessions” were about as useful as a three-legged bull on wet ice.
- Bringing in outside experts to examine diocesan governance and finances. As things stand, even with its various trust funds, the diocese faces a financial cliff in the not-distant future, with revenue declines accelerating in recent years. And let’s not kid ourselves about Sven vanBaars’ new covenantal plan for giving. Many parishes don’t have money to spare, and they don’t see any use for the diocese anyway. Whitewash, anyone?
- Reimagining the diocese top to bottom.
- Talking to a wide variety of people, including those who have left, and actually making an effort to address their concerns. People leave for a reason (or many), yet Susan Goff and the rest of diocesan leadership have very little idea why, or what it would take to make them feel welcome again. Nor do they bother, which runs counter to the very basis of Christianity. For them, the Episcopal Church is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and far too many are choosing the leave it option.
It’s also worth noting that the diocese is falling into familiar patterns.
For example, it’s running around in circles, trying to figure out how to get more kids to attend Shrine Mont. But declining attendance at Shrine Mont suggests that there is a larger issue, which is that kids aren’t interested in going. Thus, the real question is, “Why don’t people want to go to Shrine Mont?” (If I were a parent, I wouldn’t let my kids go. Far too many kids have started using drugs while away at Shrine Mont.)
One possibility is that Shrine Mont’s time simply has passed. While it’s a beautiful, relaxing place, we need to consider that it could be that its time has run. The inability to accept that all things have a beginning and an end is a very difficult concept for churches, and no one clings to the past better than Episcopalians. Just because we did something for a while and it worked doesn’t mean we’re called to do it now. Yet far too many ministries linger on, causing misery for those involved, simply because no one has the courage to say, “It’s time for change.”
In the candidates’ essays, I also didn’t hear a lot of specifics about rebuilding connections. Many in the diocese view Mayo House and its minions as a costly, distant entity that gobbles down lots of money, with little to show for it. This is a big issue, and it’s only going to get worse given the increasing prevalence of online worship. But the usual babble about listening isn’t going to cut it.
And having done transformational consulting, this author is going to give the candidates some free advice, possibly worth exactly what they paid for it: Surprise the hell out of everyone, call some of the people the church has hurt, and have a real one-on-one conversation. THEN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Don’t know where to start? Drop us an email here at Anglican Watch, and we’ll give you names and numbers. We can’t guarantee that the dead will rise from their graves and walk about Jerusalem, but the reaction will be pretty darned close.
Anglican Watch Predictions
Having covered just a few of the problems with the slate of nominees, Anglican Watch offers up two possibilities for the future. Neither is good.
1) The more likely possibility is that one of the bunch actually will get elected, and we will have yet another Shannon Johnston—self-absorbed, uninterested in “getting involved,” and primarily focused on doing Episcopal visitations and attending the endless stream of meetings in the diocese. In other words, another caretaker bishop who cuts the annual budget, occasionally does listening sessions, and shuffles the deck chairs as the Titanic continues to list. And who ignores major issues in the diocese, like criminal conduct by clergy. (Yes, that would be Shannon Johnston and Susan Goff.)
2) The other possibility is that we have a repeat of the debacle involving the search for a bishop interim. Just like the old crack about not wanting to join any club that would have me as a member, it’s well-known in the House of Bishops and elsewhere that DioVA is a train wreck, a three-ring s***-show in IMAX. So there’s a real risk that at some point everyone has an epiphany, looks at each other, says “What the hell?,” and goes home.
In other words, you really have to wonder about anyone who applies for the job:
- Do they understand just how dysfunctional the diocese is, even today?
- Do they recognize the amount of change that is required, and the amount of work that will go into making it happen?
- Do they understand just how much damage the apparatchiks in Mayo House have caused in recent years, or that a dose of cheap grace isn’t going to cut it? Just saying I’m sorry will make things worse, not better.
- Do they realize how resistant to change the diocese is? Or the butt-whuppin’ they will get if they actually change anything?
- Do they understand that many of the diocese’s more stupid moves enjoy the full support of the nomenklatura and sycophants in and around Mayo House? In other words, that in many ways they need to build a diocese from scratch?
- Do they understand that, as an organization, the Diocese has no concept of accountability? None.
- Do they understand that, even as big as it is, the Diocese is fast lurching towards collapse? The only thing it does reasonably well is litigate, and to what end? And while it babbles on about growing God’s kingdom, try showing up at Mayo House and asking for information about the denomination. (For the record, Anglican Watch put someone up to that a while ago, with predictable results.)
No matter how you parse it, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is in a bad way, and it will take a super-human effort to fix things. Right now, based on what we see in the biographies of the candidates, things are not looking good. And the theme of the search is “Amazing Grace,” but it indeed is going to take an amazing amount of real grace, not to mention elbow grease, to fix the debacle that is DioVA.
Lastly, Anglican Watch’s 20,000 foot overview prediction: No matter how the election turns out, we will see very little change in the diocese’s downward spiral. Change takes courage, faith, and a whole lot of backbone, and the diocese lacks all three. Oh, and it takes dislodging that embedded inner circle of apparatchiks at Mayo House who have managed to get us into this sinful mess. Good luck there.
P.S. And to whoever gets elected, welcome to
Tara Mayo House! Don’t mind the padlock on the front gates-it’s to keep the riff-raff from using the wrong door.